Tuesday September 29, 2009
This is a picture of our team for the competitions at the Tahiti-Moorea Rondevouz. Three of these guys are tsunami survivors. On the left is Jer and one person over is his son Mike from Eva (the boat that was swept down main street in Pago Pago). In the middle (with the hat) is Kirk from Galivanter, who's story you'll find at one of the links we provided.
On Tuesday morning after waking up and walking over to the yacht club, we were told by other sailors that a tsunami watch was in effect. Word spread quickly as people discussed the decision to motor out of the harbor or stay, news crews started showing up along the docks to interview boat owners and we went down to Mandolin and turned on the marine radio to listen for any changes or updates. Many people left work, some untied the dock lines and headed out to deeper water, while others decided to wait it out. The news announced that it would hit around 1:00 p.m., if it hit, but around 11:00 a.m. the watch was lifted and there was only a high current advisory for boats and swimmers near the shoreline for the remainder of the day. With the watch canceled, we felt safe staying tied to the dock, but decided to stay aboard the boat just in case (that was after I “convinced” Chris that it probably wasn’t the best day to go surfing).
Shortly after 1:00 p.m. Chris noticed a strong swirling current around the boat and called for me to come up and see it. It was nothing severe or alarming, but definitely a noticeable difference from the smooth still water usually in the harbor. The tide moved into the harbor and around the boat like a slow steady river, stirring up sediment and turning the water brown and murky. After a few minutes, this same surge sucked gradually back out to sea, changing the direction of the current to out flowing. Being that we are tied to a floating dock, the dock raised up along with Mandolin, so the difference in water height wasn’t blatantly obvious right next to us, but as we looked across to the stationary fuel dock we could see the water level rise and fall about a foot in either direction from sea level. After the water receded we had thought that the effects were over, so we were surprised to see the tide coming back in again, only to repeat what it had just previously done before. As this continued over and over again, more and more people began to notice, and spectators began gathering and watching from the sides of the docks. We did not feel that our boat or life were at any risk, but it was a little unnerving feeling the boat rise and fall and listening to straining dock lines creak and stretch around us. This continuous ebb and flow of water continued in a repetitive pattern throughout the day, weakening as the evening approached.
About the third time that the tide flowed out, I started to think about how amazing it was that we were experiencing the effects of an earth quake that occurred hours prior, from thousands and thousands of miles away. It was mind boggling to me how noticeable the current and tide change was, from an occurrence that happened so far away and that the energy from it could be carried all the way across the ocean, reaching us here in Hawaii. It was at that moment that I began to think of all of our cruising friends that were still out traveling on their sailboats in the South Pacific. If we were feeling the results of the earthquake this far away, what were they experiencing?
I thought of how flat and low Christmas Island and many of the atolls are out there, and then began to worry. We hadn’t seen the news and didn’t know exactly where the epicenter of the quake was or what destruction it may have caused, so we decided to plug in the computer and pull up any information that we could on the internet. Being that the islands that were affected are so isolated, there was still very little news or pictures posted online. Chris came across a report that stated that the earth quake measured 8.3 and occurred near Samoa, and that the towns of Pago Pago and Apia had been wiped out. There are so many islands and harbors in the South Pacific that it is hard to remember the names of places and where exactly each of our friends are, but Samoa and Tonga is basically the next stop that most cruisers make after French Polynesia, and we knew that almost everyone we knew was near there. We logged in to our email accounts and noticed some of the most recent emails were from these towns. The last email we received from one couple was in Apia, but that was two weeks ago and they could be anywhere right now. We tried to get on the radio net that evening to see if we could hear any news, but it is impossible to get a good signal from in port and we weren’t able to hear a thing. The Puddle Jump group on the internet was our best source of information. Cruisers who were able to get an internet connection were posting any updates and any experiences that they had or anything that they had heard from others. The cruising community, though spread across thousands and thousands of miles of ocean, is small and tight knit, and through some of the postings we were able to verify that some of our friends were safe.
As the week has gone on, more and more postings and pictures have been updated on cruising sites and blogs, and the list of boats and cruisers who are safe is fortunately growing longer. So far, from what we have read, it seems the cruisers anchored and docked in the Harbor of Pago Pago have had one of the “roughest rides”, literally. For instance, one father/son crew that we know aboard sailing vessel Eva, was aboard their boat when it floated down the main street, was left aground, then swept back out into the harbor as the tidal wave surged in and out over the island. Thankfully, it seems so far that most of the cruisers in that area have come out unscathed except for the very sad story of a retired couple who’s husband was untying their boat’s dock lines when he was swept away and later found deceased.
We have still not heard from everyone that we know, but islands are far and wide apart, and communication is not always readily available, so we will continue to check the nets and read other cruiser’s updates. Although natural disasters, war and destruction are constantly in the headlines of newspapers and nightly news, it is common to become numb to it all, but when it touches you personally it feels very different. If Chris and I had continued on our journey, it could just have easily been us out there.
We have read some amazing stories, both from people we know, and other cruisers who experienced the tsunami first hand. These are stories and pictures that will probably not make it in to your Sunday paper, and are written by people like us, so we wanted to share them with you and we hope you have the time to read through them. They are amazing encounters that speak for themselves…
Go to the following for cruisers tsunami stories:
http://learnativity .typepad. com
Lori and Chris